European food industries must take practical measures to mitigate the high levels of acrylamide in various processed foods by April, according to EU regulators.

Acrylamide is a chemical compound formed naturally from a reaction between asparagine, an amino acid, and sugars during high-temperature cooking, such as frying, baking and roasting.

In response to the EU regulations, the UK Food Standards Agency revealed it had already begun working with Food Standards Scotland, The British Hospitality Association, and other major stakeholders to properly understand how to enforce the mitigation of acrylamide in food production.

According to the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), common food products known to be high in acrylamide, include French fries, potato crisps, crackers, bread, cookies, cereals and canned black olives.

The NCI has provided guidelines on how to reduce acrylamide levels in the cooking process including decreasing cooking time and avoiding heavy browning, blanching potatoes before frying, storing potatoes outside of the refrigerator, and drying in a hot air oven after frying.

While it remains unclear as to whether acrylamide directly causes cancer in humans, a study conducted on rodents in 2002 indicated that the compound is carcinogenic, and prolonged consumption could increase an individual’s risk of developing cancer. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines acrylamide as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’.

Acrylamide in potato crisps

A recent investigation by Italian consumer magazine Il Salvagente found that seven of 18 brands of potato crisps across Europe contained levels of acrylamide, which exceeds the EU benchmark levels of 750 micrograms per kilogram (µg/kg).

The brand with the highest levels of acrylamide, according to the study samples, was French crisp producer Auchan, whose crisps contained more than double the benchmark, at 1,600µg/kg.

Other brands with exceedingly high levels were Lidl’s own brand (1300µg), Amica Chips (1200µg), Pam (1000µg), and San Carlo Classica (950µg).

In a press release last week, Safe Food Advocacy Europe (SAFE) found Il Salvagente’s results to be a cause for alarm: “It is concerning to see that, three months before the Regulation becomes applicable in the European Union, the food industry is so far from keeping acrylamide below the benchmark levels set out by EU law.”

SAFE secretary general Floriana Cimmarusti commented saying: “Faced with the current exposure levels, we could have benefit from more determination: setting a maximum level to reduce acrylamide in some products, starting with baby foods, would have been a change of pace in dealing with a food contaminant which continues to threaten consumer health.”